David J. Pollay, MAPP '06, is a co-founder of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA). David has an Economics degree from Yale University and has held leadership positions at Yahoo!, MasterCard, Global Payments and AIESEC. He is an Executive Coach who specializes in business relationships. He is also an author and keynote speaker known for his best-selling books, The Law of the Garbage Truck (how to navigate negativity) and The 3 Promises (how to create personal fulfillment every day). David's articles are here. For permission to reprint David's articles, please contact him.
I love peanuts. I like them salted or unsalted. I like them sweet or savory. You can put them in my dinner or in my dessert. I never met a peanut I didn’t like. It is a joy to eat peanuts!
It’s also a challenge to eat peanuts. Peanuts pack a caloric punch. Too many peanuts per day and you have to loosen your belt. One day I decided to reduce my peanut intake. I resolved not to eat peanuts after dinner, or for a late night snack.
So, the next night I had dinner. And sure enough, I had a thought to eat some peanuts. But I reminded myself that I had decided not to eat peanuts. So I did not eat peanuts.
And then it happened. An hour later I was standing in my kitchen with salt on my lips, peanuts in my mouth, and another load ready to go. But, I did not remember opening the cabinet, reaching down to the bottom shelf, grabbing the peanut jar – okay, the peanut tub – and putting a handful of delicious peanuts in my mouth. It was only after I stuck my hand in the tub of peanuts a second time I thought, “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! How did this happen? How did I end up here?!”
Psychology researcher Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia explains this phenomenon with a metaphor he calls the “Rider and the Elephant.” In his book The Happiness Hypothesis, and in his earlier research papers, Haidt described how the “rider” is our conscious mind, and the “elephant” is our unconscious mind. We are constantly trying to guide our body and thoughts in the direction we want them to go. The challenge is, as Haidt’s metaphor illustrates, when an elephant is determined to go somewhere, it will, rider in tow.
Now take my peanut example to another level. What if you want to change something important in your life? If you decide that you are going to do something differently, but you are not aware of what is happening below the surface, in your unconscious, how will you succeed? The answer is “you won’t.”
Haidt warns, “The rider can’t just decide to change and then order the elephant to go along with the program. Lasting change can come only by retraining the elephant, and that’s hard to do.” The key to achieving new and important things in your life is to find out what is unconsciously limiting you and then replace it with a belief that will enable your success.
Your most potent levers of sustainable change are your beliefs. Uncover your beliefs and you will find out why you do what you do. You will learn more about your “elephant.”
So here’s one approach to drawing out your beliefs. Start by identifying an important and big goal in your life and how soon you would like to reach it. Make sure this goal would change your life dramatically if you achieved it.
Now grab a pen and answer these questions. What will I gain if I achieve my goal? What will I have to do to accomplish my goal? What will I have to give up to reach my goal? What will happen if I fail to meet my goal?
Start each of your answers with “I believe I…” to help elicit your beliefs. Now look at your answers. These are some of the beliefs you hold relative to your goal. The question, then, is which of these beliefs will help you achieve your goal and which ones will hold you back. Your success in life depends on your ability to uncover and change your limiting beliefs to those that will fire you up and bring out your greatness.
Don’t let the peanuts run your life.
© 2008 David J. Pollay
Haidt, J. (2006). The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. New York: Basic Books.
Peanuts courtesy of psyberartist